Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Reading into the Future

As a child, videogames were always a significant part of my life, and sat next to reading novels as my favorite pastimes. I was never too much a fan of action and shooting games as a kid, even though they practically dominate my diet now. Instead I was more attracted to adventure games and platformers. Classics like ‘Broken Sword’ and ‘Rayman 2: The Great Escape’ captivated me, devouring many hours of my childhood and satisfying my lust for adventure. They complimented the books I read, works like ‘The Faraway Tree’ and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. My head was always buzzing with imagination, with strange worlds, impossible characters and a compulsion with exploring the unknown, something I like to think has stayed with me ever since.

Coincidentally, both the adventure and platformer genres are significantly weaker now than they were in the 90’s, deemed no longer financially viable in a medium more addicted to explosive thrills and blood spills. At the same time, videogames have grown increasingly popular since my introduction to them, while the act of reading has dropped substantially in return. And so it concerns me when I read figures of how over a third of children in the UK spend over three hours playing videogames, and that casual reading has reduced to a matter of minutes. This is a pattern immerging in most territories where videogames have a strong market. I shouldn’t need to be concerned, as my parents surely weren’t either when looking at the content of what I used to play, but these days where games like ‘Halo’ or ‘Burnout’ are always sure to provide a more attractive choice than a book, I begin to feel unsure with whether they can provide a suitable replacement.

Classic children’s literature can provide creative experience to children, and can teach them about the world in ways that modern videogames just refuse to match. If games are to become such an integral part of a child’s upbringing, then they have a responsibility to fill the shoes of literature. Children’s games should therefore be an important market, not to be engulfed by the latest Pixar or Disney movie tie-ins, but to provide opportunities for children to truly explore and create, and learn about the world, to make up for the lost tales of the greatest children’s novels. Games like ‘Okami’ and ‘Ico’ are existing proof that such works can be made possible. They just need to reach the audience. Stories like ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Treasure Island’ could make brilliant game conversions without loosing their underlying messages, as long as they are approached with good talent and appropriate production values. As the young playbase continues to expand, helped by the ever increasing successes of Nintendo, I hope the industry chooses not to exploit the young minds that now sit in their hands, but feed them with images, stories and ideas that will help develop them, and hopefully stay with them for many years to come.

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